\'Clean\' coal is a dirty lie, say protesters

April 19, 2008

A snap protest was held outside the Sydney office of World Wide Fund for Nature on April 16 after WWF announced it was joining forces with the Climate Institute, the Australian Coal Association and the mining and energy division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union to push the federal government to make "clean" coal the centrepiece of its climate change abatement plan.

Twenty-five environmentalists joined the protest, chanting "Clean coal is a dirty lie, solar and wind power now!" Environment groups criticised the alliance for "greenwashing" the coal industry. Friends of the Earth spokesperson Damien Lawson told the protesters that WWF should no longer be considered a conservation organisation given its support for coal.

Greens Senator Christine Milne was quoted in the April 16 Sydney Morning Herald as saying: "The coal industry has put this coalition together to try to give cover to the Rudd government and to the industry to get access [to] public money while they can."

WWF CEO Greg Bourne, who hails from the oil industry and was an adviser to Britain's Thatcher government, has argued for some time that "clean" coal technology is a critical part of addressing global warming.

"Australia is endowed with an enormous amount of coal, which we can either just say, 'Well, we write it off', which I think would be irresponsible for the nation and indeed the coal industry", Bourne said, according to an April 15 ABC Online article.

This sentiment was echoed by John Connor of the Climate Institute. The ABC reported, "He says he is not worried that this could divert from investment in renewable energies and that by backing this technology, the message could be sent that coal is the future".

The new coal alliance is pushing for the Rudd Labor government to oversee, and subsidise, the rapid commercialisation of carbon capture and storage plants.

However, scientists believe it will take at least a decade to determine what the longer-term impact will be of capturing carbon dioxide and forcing it underground. In the meantime, valuable time and money will be diverted from the transition away from fossil fuels to proven sustainable energy technologies.

Not only is the new alliance promoting "clean" coal, it is also pushing for the Rudd government to set up public-private partnerships to construct the pipelines to transport CO2 across the country before it is sequestered underground.

According to Lawson, members of this alliance also want the government to take responsibility for storing the CO2 for years to come. "And all this comes on top of the huge subsidies the government already pays out to the coal industry", he noted.

Steve Campbell, a Greenpeace spokesperson, joined in the criticism of the coal alliance. He argued that subsidising such an experiment means that even less public money will be diverted to renewable energy and energy efficiency. "We have the highest per capita CO2 emissions in the world, and the coal industry is an enormously profitable industry that can fund its own research and development."

Coal exporters Rio Tinto and Xstrata recorded profits this year of more than $8 billion and $6 billion respectively, according to the Sydney Morning Herald's Marian Wilkinson on April 16. Government subsidies to the oil, gas and coal industries are estimated to be $9 billion annually.

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